Mixing singer/songwriter intimacy with a high energy dance party might sound be a recipe for genre-whiplash. But the pairing at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club Saturday night flowed perfectly between two powerhouse sets from Lucy Dacus and Sylvan Esso.
Richmond’s Lucy Dacus opened the show with a stirring cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U,” accompanied on guitar and vocals by friend and recent Oberlin graduate Hayden Arp.
After the rousing cover Dacus’ band traded places with Arp, beginning their with “Troublemaker Doppleganger.”
It seemed to be one of the band’s most cohesive sets to date. A few tweaks to older songs slowed the pace for some welcome breathing room, and two brand-new songs from Dacus’ upcoming sophomore release added clarity and poise to already tight set.
The band’s newest song, to be released on their forthcoming album, featured a solo Dacus bringing focus on the lyrics’ weighty subject and satisfying rhymes. For instance: “Who ever thought you’d be haunting me/while you’re still alive/living happily?”
In keeping with their earlier shows this year, Dacus raised money to benefit D.C.’s Polaris Project, a nonprofit aimed at ending human trafficking in the U.S. Donations.
It’s also worth mentioning that Dacus has pulled out a Sylvan Esso cover in the past, shown above featuring Dharma Bombs‘ Trey Hall from a show at Gallery5 earlier this year. She didn’t play it that night, but its certainly indicative of the underlying threads connecting the two sets that night.
The cheers and scattered whoops of “RVA!” in the crowd made seem as though Dacus were playing her hometown.
But as the band stepped off of the stage, indie electronic duo Sylvan Esso’s giant, claw-like lighting apparatus loomed just behind, making it clear what was to come.
Given frontwoman Amelia Randall Meath’s roots, it’s perhaps not terribly surprising that a folk-inspired singer-songwriter might open. Those early days in Mountain Man are now only apparent in brief flashes, through Meath’s vocals and through the band’s nods to more traditional pop sounds.
The crowd, however, came prepared for the party. A flurry of balloons went bouncing through the crowd as the venue steadily filled, including a few half-hearted balloon “animals” from one would-be artist in the audience.
While still upbeat and synthy, the band’s first album seemed a more understated take on the duo’s sound. Their new songs, however, put pedal to the floor with catchy melodies and relentlessly thrumming beats that shook audience members to the pit of the stomachs.
Though, of course, their thoroughly sci-fi light show and Meath’s own boundless enthusiasm, jumping and dancing along with seemingly endless energy, provided even more reason to dance.
The crowd broke loose as soon as the band began the set with their new songs, “Sound” and “Dreamy Bruises,” with Meath dancing right along with them. The whole room exploded in cheers and song for the band’s breakout single “Coffee.”
By the end of the night, crowd members shuffled out sweaty and breathless from the crush of moving bodies and pulsing beats while the bands prepared for night two of their weekend at 9:30 Club on Sunday.
Check out photos from the show by Craig Zirpolo: